It was all a high school rivalry game could be and more. But in the end the Hillsboro Indians made more big plays than the McClain Tigers and recaptured the Rotary Bowl trophy with a come-from-behind 43-40 South Central Ohio League victory Friday at Richards Memorial Field.
“It’s one of the best ever,” Hillsboro coach Jack O’Rourke said when asked where the win ranked among his all-time victories.
Hillsboro finishes the season 3-4 in the SCOL and 4-6 overall, while McClain fell to 0-7 and 1-9.
With 5:25 left in the game McClain quarterback Tristan Pitzer scored on a 3-yard run around the right end to give his team a 40-28 lead. The two-point conversion attempt failed, but it looked like the Tigers were in command.
On the very next play of the ensuing possession though, Hillsboro’s Reece Bloomfield competed a 46-yard halfback pass to Britton Haines to give the Indians life and a first down at the McClain 25-yard line. Luke Gallimore ran for 15 yards on the next play, then a personal foul by the Tigers gave the Indians a first down at the Tiger 5-yard line.
Two plays later Deon Burns plowed into the end zone from 1 yard out. Haines’ kick was good and with 4:11 left in the game it was suddenly 40-35.
McClain returned the following kick-off to its own 42-yard line and looked to be in good shape two plays later when the Tigers pushed the ball into Hillsboro territory. But the Tigers fumbled at the end of the play, Hillsboro recovered, and Indians’ sideline erupted.
In nine running plays Hillsboro methodically drove the ball to the McClain 9-yard line and was facing fourth down with just 12 seconds left on the clock. Then came the play of the game.
Hillsboro quarterback Hunter Chain faked a handoff up the middle, rolled right, and found Bloomfield open in the right side of the end zone for the game-winning touchdown. Hillsboro ran the two-point conversion in and it was 43-40 with just eight seconds left to play.
“You just gotta keep believing,” O’Rourke said. “We got a little boost on the end around pass by Reece Bloomfield and then he caught the winning touchdown pass. A sophomore. He came big for us there in the fourth quarter.”
Hillsboro led 22-18 at the half, but the only difference in the game at the point was point-after-touchdown tries. Hillsboro made two kicks and a two-point try, while McClain missed a kick and two two-point tries.
McClain coach Jeremy Andrews said the difference in the game was that the Tigers made too many mistakes.
“That’s been the story of a lot of games,” a disappointed Andrews said after the game. “We had a lot of guys step up and do some great things, but we still made too many mistakes.”
Haines intercepted the Tigers’ desperation pass to end the game.
Hillsboro took a 20-12 lead in the Rotary Bowl series sponsored by the Rotary Clubs from both towns. The series originated in 1985 and the winner is awarded a trophy it gets to keep until the next year.
For a more complete story on the game, see Tuesday’s edition of The Times-Gazette.
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.